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“My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19)
In the spring of 2009, I enrolled in my first Masters of Professional Counseling course through Liberty University Online. At the time, I was three years into pastoring NewLife, and it had not been an easy road. I was only 30 years old when I was hired, immature and inexperienced in so many ways. By the spring of 2009, Michele and I were raising a 3 year-old, 2 year-old, and 8 month-old, and I was struggling to pastor the church in a way that was healthy for my family or was life-giving to those who were leading alongside of me. Michele and I decided that it would be wise for me to begin working towards another degree, one class at a time, something that would benefit my ministry if I continued as a pastor, or would serve as a backup plan in case things did not work out at NewLife.
Nine and a half years later, I am two and a half weeks away from completing my degree. By the grace of God, I am still pastoring NewLife, my family is still intact, and the finish line is in sight. I am so excited about how the classes and especially my internship have shaped me. But more importantly, I can’t wait to put this seven-month internship behind me and get back to pastoring full-time. I am grateful for the support and patience my family and my church family has shown me while I have finished up this past year.
This week, I have had the privilege of reading a book called “Onward,” written by Alicia Yost, who used to attend NewLife (available for purchase on December 1st). I am so proud of Alicia for writing such a vulnerable, heartfelt, and inspiring book. One of the biggest themes that shines through her writing is a theme that has also been loud and clear in my counseling internship: everyone has a story. One story from Alicia’s book is her experience with Carter, her son, who is on the autism spectrum, and the judgmental looks she often received because of his behavior in public. In one place, she writes:
All three-year-olds throw temper tantrums, but this was different. We didn’t leave because he was misbehaving. We left because we knew it was too much stimulation for him. My tears fell into the folds of his chubby legs as I strapped him into his car seat and we went home. I wished we could be like one of those other families enjoying their day while the kids had a great time swimming with friends in the pool. I wished that one of those other families came alongside us and said, “It’s going to be okay. And you are great parents. How can I help?”
When you do not know someone’s story, it is easy to sit in judgment on them for their behavior. We can be so quick to assume we know why someone acts the way they do, and to condemn them for it. But when you take the time to listen to someone’s story, you typically find that what comes forth is compassion and grace: compassion for the struggles they have been through, and a grace that allows the other person to be imperfect and to make mistakes.
Confidentiality is built into the counseling relationship, and as a result, I have been honored by the fact that people come and share with me things that sometimes they have never told anyone else, not even their spouse or loved ones. They often timidly unburden themselves, fearing judgment and condemnation. When they are met by understanding and grace, they find that a weight has been lifted, a bond has been formed, and that hope has been infused into them. But the reality is that you do not have to be a counselor in order to treat others with understanding and grace. You only need to remember that everyone has a story, and be willing to listen.
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